Monday, January 30th, 2023 07:07:39

Modi’s China Visit, Lurking Apprehension

Updated: May 29, 2015 11:25 pm

This visit has prompted considerable optimism among political analysts about the prospects of a dramatic turnaround in the bilateral relationship. But the business of reconciliation is not easy, particularly when misperceptions and mistrust remain unaddressed

For the third time in a year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President of China Xi Jinping this time in China. Modi visited China at a time when the latter’s diplomatic and military influence is increasingly being felt throughout the region, commensurate with its growing economic clout.

China’s impressive resurgence as a great power constitutes a great change in the field of India-China relations. As neighbours, as trading partners, and as regional powers with conflicting geopolitical priorities, the China-India relationship is becoming increasingly complex. Largely viewed as two rival nations competing for becoming regional hegemon, the trends seem increasingly to favour China.

Both Modi and Xi have the task of avoiding confrontation, and indeed both leaders seemed to be investing their personal reputations in a process of reconciliation. This was evident in Xi’s decision last year to first land in Modi’s hometown of Ahmadabad before heading to New Delhi, and Modi’s decision now to first land in Xi’s home province of Shaanxi before going on to Beijing and Shanghai. These gestures have prompted considerable optimism among political analysts about the prospects of a dramatic turnaround in the bilateral relationship. But the business of reconciliation is not easy, particularly when misperceptions and mistrust remain unaddressed.

The Chinese President’s visit a few months after Modi’s ascension to power at the Centre last year created the right atmosphere for a forward movement. It got a boost when Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, during her visit to China last month, hinted at the possibility of some out -of -the -box ideas being thrown up to bolster the talks on the disputed border.

Though the issues between India and China range from the traditional security and strategic concerns to management of the Brahmaputra waters, the border dispute has been the defining feature of the relations for more than half-a-century since the 1962 war between the two nations.

China’s shenanigans in India’s immediate neighbourhood and forays into the Indian Ocean have spawned concerns about China’s policy of encircling India with a ‘pearl of strings’. China’s defence budget, which has been rising consistently and is almost three times the amount India spends on defence, has fuelled these apprehensions.

India’s present defence capabilities are unlikely to be a matter of concern to China, but from China’s perspective India’s focus on development of infrastructure along the border/LAC with China, its growing engagement with Japan and other countries in the region under Look East, Act East, and its forays into the South China Sea can be a source of discomfort. Whatever the extent of this discomfort, it cannot be equated with India’s concerns over strategic partnership between China and an unstable Pakistan. It raises the spectre of India having to face two nuclear-armed neighbours simultaneously if things get out of hand.

This may be a remote possibility, but its implications are so grave that India has no option but to factor it into its strategic calculus.

These problems are not new. A lot of ground has been covered in the past and there have been some positive spin-offs in regard to bilateral trade, investment and convergence on some vital issues at international forums.

Takeaways from the latest visit

In the two days that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been in China, he announced a slew of bilateral agreements ranging from finding a political solution to the border issue, to strengthening cultural ties. The Prime Minister, whose packed schedule in China began at the historic city of Xian and ended at the modern Shanghai, later said his visit would set a new milestone in Asian relations. A few innovative features characterised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China. First time China has altered its policy and setting aside the commonly known protocols of meeting of Head of States in the capital city hosted Modi in Xian. Modi too, in his own style, continuing his recent practice of visiting other major cities like Kyoto, New York, Sydney, Toulouse, Hannover and others during his state visits, visited Xian, which used to be the ancient capital city of China.

Breaking protocol for the first time, the Chinese side organised the official deliberations in Xian when President Xi Jinping held discussions with the visiting Indian delegation. Relatively new to New Delhi and its political establishment—much like Barack Obama to Washington Modi once remarked of shifting focus to regional places for holding international events. Also, Modi’s body language in China and selfies with Premier Li Keqiang must have impressed his hosts known for their stiff public appearance.

Modi told the media after the deliberations, I stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising full potential of our partnership. Modi obviously was referring to the perennial problems in bilateral relations, continuing cooperation between China and Pakistan specifically in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the unresolved territorial dispute and others. Unlike his predecessors, Modi tried to approach the Chinese people directly through two methods. One was opening a Weibo social networking account to reach out to Chinese netizens directly and the other is showcasing an Indian tradition that has recent resonance in China, Yoga. For the first time, an Indian premier was present at a yoga demonstration ceremony at one of the main icons of China, the Temple of Heaven.

Furthermore, a new forum, by the name of State/Provincial Leaders Forum was inaugurated with the participation of states/provinces. While most of the decisions are made by the Union government in New Delhi, in the recent times many states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Gujarat and others took the lead in attracting investments from abroad, this is the first time a formal forum has been established by India.

While previous Indian leaders did approach Chinese business communities, Modi made a big push in this direction during his Shanghai meeting with business tycoons. Modi assured the Chinese business executives that he will personally pay attention to their Indian entry and operations, although it is not clear if the Prime Minister’s Office will have a separate country office for China, as has been agreed for Japan and other countries investors in India. With labour charges increasing in China, in addition to the economic slow-down, Chinese businesses are looking at greener pastures, including the growing Indian market. Nevertheless, it is not known how influential these Chinese businesses communities are in China’s overall decision-making process in de-escalating any tensions in the bilateral relations.

As China earned more than $48 billion in trade deficit from India in the last one year (and cumulatively about $250 billion since 2007), the business deals (of $10 billion signed at Beijing and $22 billion at Shanghai, in addition to $20 billion announced by President Xi Jinping in 2014 for the next five years) do not appear to match the ledgers, although this is a major effort by China to address the trade deficit issue.

Previous visiting Indian leaders have always addressed the Chinese youth at Beijing University and other institutions. Modi held interactions with the students at Tsinghua University in Beijing which sends many Politburo member of the Chinese Communist Party, in addition to opening a Gandhian Studies centre at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Yet, unlike the previous such engagements, these have generated much space in the Chinese blogosphere. With an agreement to double the youth delegation visits to each other, it is expected, as Modi remarked in Shanghai while interacting with the Indian community, the youth of both countries could witness more interactions in future.

Finally, after much dillydallying Modi made an impromptu announcement—not as a part of the formal talks—on granting e-visas to Chinese visitors. This has been a contentious issue both at the bilateral level with China which refuses visas to Arunachal Pradesh or Kashmir residents and at the home turf with different ministries differing on the issue. Visa issues will keep testing these two levels in the coming years both on Chinese responses and on domestic policy -maker’s assessments.

Despite growing bilateral cooperation between China and India, sources of tension in the relationship remain and in some cases are becoming more pronounced. In the security realm, continued occurrences of Chinese soldiers crossing into disputed areas of the China-India border and China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean are sources of friction in India-China relations.

Since taking office a year ago Modi has pursued a more active foreign policy than other previous governments. India has deepened its ties with the U.S., a shift from its long-standing foreign policy principle of nonalignment, and strengthened military cooperation with Vietnam and Japan, both of which have maritime disputes with China.

Beijing, in turn, has bolstered ties with India’s rival Pakistan, pledging multibillion-dollar investments in infrastructure there as it uses its One Belt, One Road project to connect China to Central Asia and Europe part of the country’s quest to place itself as the regional hegemon.Such moves are driving new alliances and strategic realignments that are reshaping the region’s power balance, even if they are unlikely to spark outright conflict.

As China starts to build a network of roads, rails and ports in what India sees as its strategic backyard, New Delhi is making moves in response. India last week signed an agreement with Iran to develop a port not far from a Chinese-built port in Pakistan.

India has long been wary of China’s expanding access in its neighbourhood, particularly what some political analysts observe as a string of pearls encirclement of India by Chinese investments in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar. In recent months, China has also increased its role in Afghanistan”a country whose future has grave implications for India’s security.

India’s plans to build a port in Iran’s Chabahar region will allow it to access Afghanistanand balance China’s activities at the Gwadar port in Pakistan, which India fears will become a Chinese naval hub.

Can India-China really be friends?

Tensions have long clouded relations between the two Asian nuclearpowered nations. If India and China want to find a way to collaborate, the answer may well lie in economics.

Over the last few decades, relations between Beijing and New Delhi have witnessed a roller-coaster ride. Border disputes have always held them back, but the two countries have often managed to find common ground on economic issues. While China’s plan of developing ‘Maritime Silk Road’ has made news in India for all the wrong reasons, New Delhi itself has never explicitly and officially opposed the concept. In fact, many of China’s grand economic initiatives have come in collaboration with India. Both are founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank for example, and both established the BRICS Development Bank last year. While India has often clashed with the United States in the World Trade Organization, India and China frequently find each other on the same side in the WTO, asking for the same things, from the right to export steel to America without discrimination, to allowing developing countries to maintain a larger food stockpile. Even on climate change, India and China hold fort together, asking the industrialised world to allow them greater leeway and calling for the easy transfer of green technology.

This collaboration is quite natural. Whatever their disagreements on power politics, Beijing and New Delhi together represent nearly one-third of mankind, and share several similar economic problems. To many in the developing world, regardless of their political leanings, India and China represent the economic rights of poorer, emerging economies on the world stage, thereby making Beijing and New Delhi the natural leaders of the developing world.


Leaders of the two countries reviewed the progress of bilateral relations. The two sides shared the view that President Xi’s visit to India in September 2014 was a significant milestone in the development of bilateral relations. The leaders noted that there is a historic imperative for India and China to enrich their bilateral relations, with the agreement on building closer developmental partnership reached during President Xits vihsit to India as a core component.

The leaders agreed that simultaneous re-emergence of India and China as two major powers in the region and the world offers a momentous opportunity for realisation of the Asian Century. They noted that India-China bilateral relations are poised to play a defining role in the 21st Century in Asia and indeed, globally. The leaders agreed that the process of the two countries pursuing their respective national developmental goals and security interests must unfold in a mutually supportive manner with both sides showing mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations. This constructive model of relationship between the two largest developing countries, the biggest emerging economies and two major poles in the global architecture provides a new basis for pursuing state-to-state relations to strengthen the international system.

Strengthening Political Dialogue and Strategic Communication

Recognizing the expanding bilateral relationship, the growing international role of India and China and the imperative of forging strategic trust, the leaders agreed to enhance communication through frequent exchanges at the leadership level and by fully utilising the existing dialogue mechanisms.

Noting the increasingly important role played by Indian States and Chinese Provinces in advancing the bilateral relationship, the two sides agreed to establish a State/Provincial Leaders Forum. The first meeting of the Forum was held in Beijing on 15 May 2015, with the participation of Prime Minister Modi and Premier Li.

The two sides acknowledged the positive role of the Agreements and Protocols that have been signed so far in maintaining peace and tranquillity in the border areas. Committed to enhance border defence cooperation, the two sides will carry out annual visits and exchanges between the two Military Headquarters and neighbouring military commands, endeavour to operationalize the hotline between the two Military Headquarters, expand the exchanges between the border commanders, and establish border personnel meeting points at all sectors of the India-China border areas.

The two sides affirmed that an early settlement of the boundary question serves the basic interests of the two countries and should be pursued as a strategic objective by the two governments. Bearing in mind the overall bilateral relations and the long-term interests of the two peoples, the two sides are determined to actively seek a political settlement of the boundary question. They made a positive assessment of the important progress made through the mechanism of the Special Representatives, and reaffirmed the commitment to abide by the three-stage process for the settlement of the boundary question, and continuously push forward negotiation on the framework for a boundary settlement based on the outcomes and common understanding achieved so far, in an effort to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution as early as possible.

The two sides will resolve outstanding differences, including the boundary question, in a proactive manner. Those differences should not be allowed to come in the way of continued development of bilateral relations. Peace and tranquillity on the India-China border was recognized as an important guarantor for the development and continued growth of bilateral relations. Pending a final resolution of the boundary question, the two sides commit to implementing the existing agreements and continue to make efforts to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.

New Avenues for Cooperation

The leaders welcomed continuous enrichment of India-China Closer Developmental Partnership with its expansion into newer areas of cooperation. The leaders welcomed initiation and expansion of cooperation in the following fields and mandated the relevant agencies to implement the projects in a purposeful manner:

Enhanced cooperation in vocational training and skill development, including through the signing of the Action Plan on the establishment of Mahatma Gandhi National Institute for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship at Gandhinagar/ Ahmedabad in Gujarat; Initiating cooperation in development of smart cities with identification of

GIFT City in India and Shenzhen in China as pilot smart cities for joint demonstration projects;

Welcomed the establishment of the Space Cooperation Mechanism between space authorities of India and China and the signing of the 2015-2020 Space Cooperation Outline between the Indian Space Research Organization of the Republic of India and China National Space Administration of the People’s Republic of China. The two sides agreed to reinforce the cooperation in the field of Satellite Remote Sensing, Space-Based meteorology, Space Science, Lunar and Deep Space Exploration, Satellite Navigation, Space Components, Piggy-back Launching Services, and Education and Training.

Trans-border Cooperation

The two sides recognized that enhancing border areas cooperation through border trade, pilgrimage by people of the two countries and other exchanges can effectively promote mutual trust, and agreed to further broaden this cooperation so as to transform the border into a bridge of cooperation and exchanges. The two sides agreed to hold negotiation on augmenting the list of traded commodities, and expand border trade at Nathu La, Qiangla/Lipu-Lekh Pass and Shipki La.

The Indian side appreciated the support and cooperation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the local government of Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China to Indian pilgrims for the Kailash Manasarover Yatra (Gang Renpoche and Mapam Yun Tso Pilgrimage). To further promote religious exchange between the two countries and provide facilitation for Indian pilgrims, the Chinese side would launch the route for the Yatra through Nathu La Pass in 2015.

Shaping the Regional and Global Agenda

As two major powers in the emerging world order, engagement between India and China transcends the bilateral dimension and has a significant bearing on regional, multilateral and global issues. Both Sides agreed to not only step up their consultations on developments affecting international peace, security and development but also coordinate their positions and work together to shape the regional and global agenda and outcomes. They agreed to further strengthen coordination and cooperation in multilateral forums including RIC, BRICS and G20, promote the interests of developing countries and the building of a better world. India will support China in hosting the G20 summit in 2016.

The two sides support a comprehensive reform of the United Nations, including recognizing the imperative of increased participation of developing countries in UN’s affairs and governance structures, so as to bring more effectiveness to the UN. China attaches great importance to India’s status in international affairs as a large developing country, and understands and supports India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations including in the Security Council.

The two sides are ready to continue cooperation under the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

China welcomed India’s application for full membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The two sides agreed to work together with relevant parties to accelerate the preparation for establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to promote regional infrastructure and economic development.

The two sides shared the view that the issue of climate change is of vital importance for the sake of today’s world and future generations. They underscored the importance of working together and with other countries to conclude an ambitious, comprehensive, universal, balanced and equitable climate agreement at the forthcoming CoP 21 to UNFCCC to be held in Paris later this year that will also encourage genuine technology transfer, collaboration for adaptation and mitigation and financial support in meeting this common global challenge. The two sides issued Joint Statement on Climate Change between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China during the visit.

By Vivek Singh

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